By Renae Blum, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
Looking for your next date idea? Or maybe a fun afternoon you can enjoy with family, friends, or just yourself? Look no farther than a Nebraska state park. Whether you want to learn something new, stretch your legs or see something beautiful, here are some ideas for outdoor fun that can be completed in just a day.
Visit a nature center
Spend an afternoon indulging your curiosity and learning about nature. Schramm Education Center near Gretna is a fun stop for children and adults, filled with state-of-the-art interactive exhibits and live displays of Nebraska fish, reptiles and amphibians. Kids can play in educational nature center areas, and anyone can try a round on the virtual reality mountain biking experience.
At Wildcat Hills Nature Center near Gering, you can discover the flora and fauna of the Panhandle through interactive displays and interpretive programming. The facility also offers great birdwatching, with a large viewing area and several feeders.
Try the climbing wall at Eugene T. Mahoney State Park
Whether you’re new to rock climbing or a pro, you can have fun at Venture Climb, located at Eugene T. Mahoney State Park near Ashland. The state-of-the-art facility features a 42-foot climbing wall with both auto- and top-rope belays, as well as a bouldering structure. Climbers can also enjoy scenic views of the park through the facility’s floor-to-ceiling windows. Learn more at OutdoorNebraska.org/Mahoney.
Visit a state historical park
Take a step back in time at one of Nebraska’s nine state historical parks. In Nebraska City, you can visit the beautiful mansion home of J. Sterling Morton, founder of Arbor Day. Authentic furnishings grace the rooms and displays capture the life and times of this noted figure.
Other parks include Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park, which preserves the home of famed showman scout William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, and Rock Creek Station State Historical Park, where James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok began his gunfighting career.
Visit OutdoorNebraska.org/StateHistoricalParks for a complete list. Note that some visitor centers are open by appointment only in winter.
Take pictures at park landmarks
Nebraska’s state parks are filled with interesting sights – everything from the picturesque waterfall at Platte River State Park to the stately Towers in Time sculpture at Ponca State Park. Pick a state park to visit and do a little research ahead of time to find a fun place for a picture. For example, the stone lighthouse at Lake Minatare State Recreation Area is the only one like it in Nebraska, and the gnarled Old Oak Tree at Ponca State Park was a sapling 24 years before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock.
Go on a hike
A wide variety of trails are available at Nebraska’s state parks, including rustic dirt paths, paved trails and challenging uphill hikes. All feature beautiful, natural scenery. Some of the state’s most popular trails can be found at Ponca and Indian Cave state parks, which offer multiple trails with varying levels of difficulty. In western Nebraska, Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area and Chadron State Park offer gorgeous views of rugged bluffs. Find a trail to explore at OutdoorNebraska.org/HikingTrails.
Visit a lookout point or observation tower
If you’re prepared for a climb, visit the observation towers at Eugene T. Mahoney and Platte River state parks. An easier spot to reach is the Tri-State Overlook at Ponca State Park, which offers a picturesque view of the Missouri River, as well as views of three states: Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa.
The scenic overlook at Indian Cave State Park, located at Trailhead 3, also provides beautiful views of the Missouri River. And at Chadron State Park, the Black Hills Overlook, accessed via a short trail off a parking lot, offers a view deep into South Dakota.
To learn more at OutdoorNebraska.org. A Nebraska state park entry permit is required.
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